It’s getting easier and easier to swap common goods with reusable ones – coffee cups, straws and shopping bags – but what about the things we can not so easily replace? Like the bottles, jars and carafes that hold our lotion and soap?
Many cosmetic brands tout the recyclability or biodegradability of their packaging – sometimes with a healthy dose of greenwashing – but recycling alone is not a viable solution to our global waste problem; since 1950, less than 10% of the plastic produced has been recycled and, according to waste management company TerraCycle, the cosmetics industry itself produces around 120 billion units of disposable packaging per year.
Amid this plastic pollution crisis, companies are stepping in and making reusable and refillable cosmetics available to customers, so we can continue to pamper ourselves (and sometimes pamper ourselves) without the same environmental cost.
Those plastic twist deodorant tubes are a thing of the past. Instead, both big brands and smaller brands offer rechargeable options.
Proverb’s aluminum-free deodorant refills are available in different colors, scents and strengths, and are paper wrapped. With their aluminum refillable pods, Grove Collaborative is bypassing plastic and aiming to be completely plastic-free by 2025. Haeckels also sells reusable aluminum cases, and their products are made with just eight sustainable ingredients, all sourced from suppliers located in less than 2 km from the company. For a discreet case to keep in your bag all day, try Fussy, whose compostable refill packaging is also made from sugarcane pulp. Humankind refills are made from cardboard and plastic, which can be recycled, and customers can also pay a small monthly fee to help offset their impact through the company’s Ocean Plastic Elimination Offset Program. .
Conventional brands are jumping on the trend too; Dove, Secret and Old Spice now sell reusable cases and deodorant refills.
Washable cotton pads
Instead of buying those mega-packs of cotton pads from the beauty department, try washable cotton pads instead. Use them to apply liquid products like micellar water, face wash, or toner, or replace products that come in saturated wipes — like makeup remover — with the liquid form of the product to be applied with these reusable pads.
LastRound – available in the store unboxed – comes in a nice dispenser for your bathroom cabinet and is machine washable. Versed Skincare Cotton Rounds also come with a mesh bag for washing; place used towels in the bag before putting them in the washing machine and drying with your other laundry. Beauty brands Paula’s Choice, Garnier, Sephora and Cocokind also have their own reusable cartridges.
Refillable skin care products
Brands big and small offer solutions for the little single-use plastic bottles, jars, and tinctures that store our favorite skincare products.
Based in Nashville, The Good Fill has their own in-person store, but you don’t have to be a Tennessean to use their products. Their orderable refill pouches for skincare products are made with 93% less plastic than the bottle, and are then mailed back to the company for reuse. Youth to the People products can also be recharged and subscribers can save $10 on each recharge.
Tata Harper takes a different approach with its silicone-free Water-Lock moisturizer; refill pods come in recyclable packaging and lock into the original container. To refill Zyderma foaming face washes, order their glass bottles of the concentrated product to dilute with water and use as normal. Yves Saint Laurent also offers refills for its Pure Shots Perfect Plumper face cream, as does Rihanna’s Fenty Skin for a number of products ranging from face sunscreen to body scrub.
Silicone Sheet Masks
Jumping on a sheet mask makes every night a luxury, but these single-use products inevitably end up in the trash. Treat yourself waste-free with a reusable sheet mask to hold your favorite skincare products closer to the face for better absorption. The Honest Beauty Silicone Sheet Mask is a must-have for skincare gurus; apply skincare products — or make your own mask concoctions, like these oatmeal masks — before putting the mask on your face. Rinse after each use and store for your next night of care.
Reusable eye masks
Eye masks work much the same as face masks by trapping the product for better absorption. The Diex Forever Silicone Eye Mask targets the area under your eyes to hold your favorite eye creams and serums close to the skin (it also comes in a super cute case). These masks are selling out fast, but Pacifica also has an affordable and effective reusable eye mask available at Target.
Who knew makeup could be refillable? These brands are tackling the task of litterless beauty. Plus, refills are often much cheaper than the original product, so choosing a durable option will save you money in the long run.
Guerlain, Fenty Beauty and Dior all offer refill tubes for their lipstick, as well as Hourglass, which also sells refills for their popular eyeshadow palettes. The Glossier Monochromes eyeshadow trio compacts also have refills in 10 different shades that can easily pop in and out of the original container. Kjaer Weis is among the most refill-friendly brands, with 100% recyclable and compostable packaging for their refillable concealer, mascara, blush, eyebrow gel, eye shadow, eye pencils, bronzer, highlighter and lipstick, with full instructions for filling.
For all your swab needs, ditch the hundreds of drugstore packs and go for these silicone alternatives. Try LastObject’s popular LastSwab or buy an affordable multi-pack from Walmart. Wash the exchange with soap and warm water after each use and store it in the included case.
Refillable hair products
In addition to plastic-free shampoo and conditioner bars, some companies offer another low-emission alternative to traditional hair care. Love Beauty and Planet products are vegan, cruelty-free, and free of dyes and parabens, and they offer 32oz refills, as does Ouai for their shampoo and conditioner for fine, medium, and thick hair types. Natura 300ml refills also give you great value on their many shampoos and conditioners.
With all this COVID-conscious handwashing, you might be going through a bottle of hand soap faster than you can replace it. Check out ESPA and purchase a refillable pump bottle from their hand and body soap refill bags, as well as shampoo, conditioner, hand cleanser and lotion. Follain Everything Soap is great for dogs, clothes, counters and hands; hook their small glass bottles to refill them from a larger refill pitcher. Bathing Culture’s lovely glass jars can also be refilled from their one-gallon body wash bottles, or visit one of their refill locations in California.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a BA in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America and interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Alongside journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative non-fiction.